When it comes to the brain, you can either use it or lose it.
“I think the more you do, the more you can do,” said Audrey Gallant. “And the less you do, the less you can do.”
Gallant should know. The 87-year-old from Maccan learned to play guitar late in life. nNw she sings and plays guitar each Wednesday night at the Bordertown Jam in Amherst.
“I got up enough nerve to sing on stage just before my 80th birthday and just in the last few years did I learn the chording on the guitar and playing along with the band, so I started out late.”
Gallant is a young 87.
“I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in,” she says with a laugh.
Gallant grew up in Amherst during the Great Depression, moved to Truro at the age of 16, and then to Toronto when she was 17.
“I spent 35 years in Toronto dreaming about down home.”
Many of those dreams she put to poetry.
“When the kids were small I was home alone quite a bit and I’d write something down, or sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night and, if I had a couple good lines for a poem, I’d get up and write them down and go to back to bed.”
The poems speak about an Amherst that was much different than it is today.
“I grew up in the Depression days. It was bad times but it was the best of times. People leaned on each other and helped each other,” said Gallant. “I’ve seen families bring up somebody else’s kids. We never had any money but we had a lot of fun.”
One poem talks about skating at Christie’s Pond, which was located between where the Little League field and the fire hall stand today.
“I skated on Christie's pond. There were a lot of ponds, and on every corner there was a patch of ice and every corner was filled with kids,” said Gallant. “Where did all the kids go? There’s nobody playing outside anymore.”
She also has a poem about hobos riding freight trains.
“When we were kids we’d stand and wave to them and they’d wave back. Sometimes they’d get off the train and go to somebody’s house to get a meal. They’d cut wood or do some work to pay for their meal, and then they’d hop on the train again and go.”
Most of the men were heading to Western Canada to work the harvest.
“It was Depression days and nobody had a job. They would go out there to work to get money to feed their families out east.”
She also remembers a lot of dancing in Amherst in the 30s.
“There’d be a square dances almost every night. People would make a lunch and sandwiches and somebody would play the fiddle for a nickel,” said Gallant. “I loved those dances. We had a lot of fun. We would dance the shoe strings off our feet.”
Gallant said that, because there was no television, it was important for people to get out and socialize.
“In the square dances you’d dance with everybody in the hall, so if you didn’t know each other, you got to know each other.”
And no drinking was allowed in the dance halls.
“If people were drinking they had to have a bottle hidden outside someplace or in their pocket,” said Gallant. “There wasn’t as much drinking as there is now.”
Over the years, Gallant did try to play guitar a few times, with little success.
“I tried to play guitar when I was 13 years old but the guitar was all beat up. I bought it for $5 and it was all warped. I bought it second hand,” said Gallant. “I could have bought a new one for $6, but I would have had to have waited for it to arrive in the mail and I didn’t have the patience.”
She also tried to play guitar while living in Toronto.
“I used to pick out a few tunes in Toronto but I never could do the chording.”
A few years ago, Gallant had her poems bound into a book, making enough copies to give to her kids and grandkids.
She recently put 27 of her poems to her own melodies and, in November and December of 2018 with help from friends at the Bordertown Jam, she had them recorded. Those recordings were put on six CDs, which she will soon distribute to her family as a keepsake.
Asked what keeps her young, Gallant says singing.
“The first song I remember really singing myself was 'Blue Velvet Band' by Hank Snow.
"I was six or seven years old when I sang that. I loved that song,” said Gallant. “And my mother used to love to sing. She would sing to me every night. She would sing ‘My Little Buckaroo’ when I went to sleep. Singing is good for you, it’s good for the soul.”